Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Black story, white lens

Thapelo Tselapedi recently wrote about how “black stories are in the form of service delivery protests, which are characterised by angry mobs stealing electricity, invading lands and tossing poo”. He goes on to share many other ways in which black stories are warped and twisted, noting that: “Such stories don’t engage black politics in any meaningful way — they are not written nor seen through black people’s experiences. Any meaningful engagement is left to artists like Simphiwe Dana, Thandiswa Mazwai and critical theatre performances, which are relegated to cultural spaces while the content of their work is not adequately engaged in mainstream debates — a space which black experiences have yet to stand on their own without being viewed as radical or angry, also as if primitive forms of expression are the only mediums through black people channel their dissatisfaction with the system.”

Tselapedi’s analysis is evidenced to be spot-on by this distasteful Mail & Guardian piece, “Love of rugby trumps racial stereotypes”, which celebrates the dehumanisation of black people by highlighting the nobleness of black learners who “answer racist taunts on the field with points on the board”. The article romanticises the racism surrounding the black rugby players at Hoërskool Ben Vorster, completely ignoring the historic oppression undergone by black people and the continuing demeaning of our persons through the use of that word.

Nowhere in the piece are racists called out and chastised for their deplorable behaviour. Instead, effort is made to point out that some of the black learners are there because members of the “traditional school community offer a ‘helping hand’ ”. That they are assisting some of the learners should not be used to suggest that condoning racism is acceptable, which the writer seems to be doing.

While some may argue that the parents of the black learners being so abused are okay with it, I would argue that it’s evidence of the inequality of our country. Choices do not happen in a vacuum, especially for us of the black working class. And having to choose between one’s child getting a chance at a better education and furthering their talent or getting it and being subjected to such dehumanisation is not a choice anyone should think is acceptable to make.

In a country such as ours, where racial oppression and segregation were entrenched into everyday life in the most horrific of ways, racism should never ever be made to seem okay or more acceptable under any circumstances. Lest we forget, this system led to the deliberate underdevelopment of black communities; the dispossession of people from their land and in turn housing, and discrimination in the quality of all basic rights and services including healthcare, education and social security. It led to mass murders and unspeakable torture for black people. I will never in this post be able to adequately describe the full horror of it all — horror which continues to follow many till today.

Any critique of media in South Africa is often met with a response about the role of the media in furthering democracy and the entire issue of the right to know. This is a role that cannot be denied and one that is extremely important. However, this also points out to a notable flaw in the question of the right to know. While it is without a doubt a fundamental right, it cannot be adequately furthered outside of constant critical analysis of WHAT it is WHO wants us to know.

Now, I am a black woman, mother of two precious black children and sister to two black brothers. Every community, in which I have lived — informal settlement or township — is made up entirely of black people. So my own blackness and that in the world around me, makes up a fundamental part of my world — how I experience it and my understanding of it. I personally would never want my children, my brothers and community knowing that acceptance of our dehumanisation is in any way “heroic” or “noble”.

As Tselapedi rightly notes “ours is a legacy sharply moulded by racial superiority, racial inferiority and class oppression. It must be confronted” and this will not happen as long as the story of South Africa continues to be seen through a white lens — a lens that excludes the majority of the country’s citizens.

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    • fraud

      Well said.

    • Tofolux

      @Koketso, the truth is that the alternative voice is ignored. How does one also explain that the only participants in a debate on rac-ism, on ‘tv’ are whites? How does one explain the wholesale coverage of minority groups, I mean a very small minority, eg afriforum or rooi-oktober? It is not that there are no valid alternatives eg civil organisations, community activists, or independent voices its just that the views and expressions of the majority of citizens have been deliberately ignored.

    • PrettyBelinda

      What we learn from history….dispossessed and in chains under minority rule, dispossessed and free under majority rule….or simply just rendered voiceless?

    • bernpm

      well said, I fully agree


    • Themba

      Im gonna tweet this, to share with other hundreds out there.

    • Momma Cyndi

      I had not read that piece – thanks for pointing it out.
      It is so good to see schools that are working well and that our future is in such safe young hands. I look forward to seeing those names in the Springbok squad some day soon. It is also great to see how easily racism is extinguished when kids are allowed to simply play together and know each other as people. I just wish more schools were like this one. As for the other schools who allow racial taunting to go unpunished – one has to wonder how parents put up with such low standards of school discipline.

    • bernpm

      ” It must be confronted” and this will not happen as long as the story of South Africa continues to be seen through a white lens — a lens that excludes the majority of the country’s citizens………”

      I did indeed exchanged my white lens for a black lens. Problem……..I saw darkness. So, I changed back to the white lens.
      Otherwise a clear and very intelligent analysis and response to the report on the school rugby. My compliments.
      FYI: One of my darker friends spend some years in Holland during the apartheid years. He joined a soccer team and was routinely called “blacky”. Why?? Cause he was black and the only one in that color on the field. Were his team mates racist?? Or simply looking through that horrible “white lens”??
      So we handed out some black lenses as a test. They experienced the same problem as I did. They only saw darkness. We gave up on these stupid Duchies and reverted back to the white lenses.
      Their game improved dramatically with the white lenses. the experiment made us believe that the color of the lens was related to the color of the skin. My friend “blackey”, clearly using his black lens, played a respectful part in the performance of the team.
      My friend and I decided to do some further tests in the future in an attempt to confirm the connection between the lens one uses and the skin colour one has, extending the research to coloreds, Indians and Chinese. The latter, being accepted as “black” in SA, being of particular interest…

    • Alexx Zarr

      There’s a word I came across recently, namely, ‘responsiblisation’. It is not found in standard dictionaries. I like the word. It means the process of becoming responsible.
      In the real world, the world that is made up of layers of competition – where people/individuals, groups, collectives, teams (businesses, sport, political parties, etc) and associations (common interest) all compete in some way for resources, head space, opportunities, recognition and so on – there is need for responsiblisation. What this implies, is that as much as I can blame my parents, their parents, my teachers, siblings, the government, social class imperatives and so on, for my malaise, responsiblisation requires of me to say, despite all these blameworthy events, circumstances, people, systems, and so forth, that I am responsible for my own successes or failures. I can always blame something if I seek to be un-responsiblised.
      I cannot undo what the past has left for me, I can only do it for myself, today and into the future.
      If Black folks’ worlds are not given authentic and/or enough coverage – then who is responsible? If I feel I am not given a fair hearing in a conversation, in any endeavour, is it my responsibility or anothers’?
      Who am I trying to dump my responsibility onto? It is mine, not others.
      This would be like white folk asking why they were not included in the prevailing African education, or health, or political system when they arrived in their little ships 360…

    • Mosadi wa MoAfrica

      Thanks for the interesting piece. As for me, I also have our leadership to blame. They have become above the man on street. As they no longer live in our townships and neighborhoods they have forgotten the real challenges poor people continue to face. In the media they prefer to project a clean and progressive country while the man on the street continues to suffer, When it comes to the media, don’t get me started on that one. Its sad to see how media continues to play political games instead of going out there and reporting on the positives, especially reflecting on the progress of the black child. I’m not saying white children should not be reported, they must equally be reflected in the media as equally they are the citizens of this country. I just feel there is not enough being done to showcase black people doing well, promoting our role models for the up and coming. And im not talking material progression! How many times do you see young black children at the helm of any real debates on media? How many times do you see platforms in leadership where young people are leading the initiatives? Until media and leadership clean their act up, we will continue to be portrayed as the sad story and not the progressive nation we shall one day become. I’m sure! that one day we shall become an inclusive and progressive nation. Keep it up and keep writing Ms Moeti!

    • john b patson

      The trouble is that when a “black lens” is forcibly imposed, the result, in the form of ernest, history correcting, politically left wing programmes and articles, is just about unwatchable / un readable for anyone who is not a sociology student with time on their hands and a tutor to please.
      Or when it is done for the masses (tokolosh stories!!) is it condemned as racist commercialisation of the worst sort.
      So you are left with this void, where stories like the rugby one, leave the writer profoundly discontented (rightly) while they report something logic should be able to celebrate.
      Perhaps it is a time for a development of the concept of Négritude to enter the mass media — the problems identified in the 1930s are still here.

    • bernpm

      @Alexx Zarr : thanks for your interpretation. Complicated and confusing as it is, it does describe life, experiences and at the end ………. ‘responsiblisation’ seems the correct term for “coming to terms with ones own responsibility” while not feeling to perturbed about being continuously blamed for the deeds of ones ancestors.

      Life is here and now, what happened in the past did precisely that “it happened in the past”. One can learn from it, but not change it.
      What will happen in the future, will happen in the future. Any person can strive to prevent mistakes of the past being made again. Many choose not to get involved in the future but marveling in the past and enjoying the feel of the opportunity to blame “the past”.
      One day, they have to go through this process of ‘responsiblisation’

    • Mark

      I love how the author blames the media, and yet the loudest mouthpiece of the oppressed is the government. The same government who incidently have the ways and means to correct this, but they do nothing.

      The best example here is to show how a government who is mostly black, representing black people (but apparently the whole country), saw more importance in pushing through the secrecy bill through parliament than enacting legislation that would allow houses to be built for the poor without having to go through lengthy town planning or procedural processes.

      The people elected to be the voice and hand of the people have chosen to enrich and protect themselves and have left the disenfranchised on their own.

      And yet white people are to blame.

    • Kgositsile Mokgosi

      The argument of the early eighties when the ANC was trying to wriggle itself into a major role of the struggle inside the country that was then occupied by AZAPO was to question the relevance of Black Consciousness. Something dubbed “Progressive Ideology” (PI)surfaced in the university campuses with a stand that the problem was not ‘racial’ but a ‘class’ struggle. Of course at the time most apartheid laws had been repealed, courtesy of the internal struggle that had been waged by the Black Consciousness Movement especially the 1976 uprising followed by the death of Steve Biko. People were then taught that their dignity is not important that they should just fight for ‘their rights’. Black Consciousness preached that black people are responsible for themselves while PI stood for forcing white people to accommodate them in their structures and institutions. Therefore in 1994 the major issue was how to ensure the comfort of white people rather than how to uplift black people. Black people have therefore remained beggars in a country in which they make up 80% of the population. They continue to project an image of themselves that perpetuates prejudice. They handle themselves in a manner that displays no pride in themselves. Getting hurt at even the smallest gesture from whites that resemble prejudice is a sign of deep rooted inferiority complex. The only antedote is Black Consciousness. Only one person to look up to, Steve Biko. Afterall he died for the dignity of black…